Outcasts Episode 1.01 - TV Review


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Writer: Ben Richards
Director: Bharat Nalluri

In Forthaven, a human settlement on the planet Carpathia, explorer Mitchell Hoban kills his wife after discovering she’s been spying on this plans to start a breakaway colony. Meanwhile, the last known transport bringing refugees from a devastated Earth arrives… but can it land safely?

It’s rather surprising that the opening shot of Outcasts features a spaceship in flight, since all involved seem very keen to reassure us that it’s not really science fiction, presumably for fear of scaring off a mass audience that can deal with the adventures of an alien with two hearts who travels through time in a telephone box, but might be put off by the idea of something set on another planet. They’d be better off worrying whether this opener is sufficiently intriguing to hook the viewer.

For an establishing episode, it comes at you from very odd angles. One story thread tries to generate tension around whether a transport ship bringing fresh colonists from Earth will be able to make a safe landing. Trouble is, it’s hard to care about a bunch of people you never actually see, and the one person we do get to know, the captain, practically has “DOOMED” tattooed on his forehead. You’d have to be staggeringly slow on the uptake not to realise that these people are dead men walking. After half an hour you’re wishing they’d just crash the ship and get on with it.

The other strand concerns Mitchell Hoban, loose cannon “expeditionary” who (for reasons that aren’t terribly clear, other than that he really loves his gun) wants to break away from the rule of President Tate and start his own colony. This isn’t exactly gripping either. There’s no mystery about the death of Hoban’s wife, and his rebellion lacks plausibility (How is he going to build a breakaway colony, exactly? With what resources? Is anyone else going to follow him, other than his screwface chum Jack?).

It’s frustrating. We’re taken to a new world, and instead of exploring that world, or getting an insight into the problems of frontier existence, we’re essentially watching a domestic drama where a guy cracks up, murders his wife, and abducts his son. That might make a good storyline for EastEnders , but it’s desperately prosaic in this context. It delivers a very unexpected death – the episode’s one decent twist – but little else.

Actually, EastEnders isn’t a bad comparison, because Forthaven is every bit as grey and bleak as Walford. The over-riding impression you come away with is of watching a lot of people standing around, watery-eyed and frowning, mournfully droning on about their harrowing backstories. An hour-long sigh is not a good way to start a series.

It doesn’t help that some of the dialogue clangs louder than a dustbin lid dropped off a tower block. Were told that there’s “more to someone than you know” not once but twice, and Tate’s stirring speech to the incoming colonists, presumably meant to make you feel like punching the air, is instead so Independence Day-corny that you’re more likely to put your head in your hands.

The one bright spot is Ashes To Ashes alumni Daniel Mays as Cass Cromwell. As Battlestar Galactica proved, you can get away with heaping on the grim if you have distinctive, interesting characters. Mays is the geezer it’s okay to like - the anti-Danny Dyer, if you will - and he brightens up every scene he’s in. He’s the spoonful of sugar in a bowl of grey, stodgy porridge.

Judging by the teasing clips we’ve seen from later episodes in the series, it may well be worth sticking with Outcasts to see how its various arcs develop. Science fiction fans may be willing to make the effort, but frankly, we’d be surprising if many of the wider audience are. Such a shame.

The scene where Cass has a pig on a lead – a totally incongruous moment that provides a welcome flash of absurdist humour.

Blimey, security in Freehaven is rubbish – you can just wander into the President’s office and attack him. Other than the presence of Jamie Bamber, this is the one thing about the episode that reminds you of Battlestar Galactica : five years of a show built on paranoia about infiltration, and they only had one episode in which someone was caught on CCTV…

If there was a memorable one, we missed it.

Ian Berriman

Deputy Editor, SFX

Ian Berriman has been working for SFX – the world's leading sci-fi, fantasy and horror magazine – since March 2002. He also writes for Total Film, Electronic Sound and Retro Pop; other publications he's contributed to include Horrorville, When Saturday Comes and What DVD. A life-long Doctor Who fan, he's also a supporter of Hull City, and live-tweets along to BBC Four's Top Of The Pops repeats from his @TOTPFacts account.